The tattoo techniques that are practiced and perfected by artists in modern studios today have taken a long time to emerge. With a rich and detailed history surrounding the art of tattooing, it comes as no surprise that the many variations of tattoo techniques span back for centuries. Each country and culture has its own unique take on tattoos, in fact, many of the designs that have become popular in Western culture in recent years haven’t just popped up but actually have deeply rooted origins in other countries across the globe. These designs that have quickly turned into trends have some serious heritage and whilst they can be beautiful, they weren’t designed to look nice; authentic tattoos had a purpose in the society and culture that they were first created in.


Just as many cultures have their own distinctive and traditional style of tattoo that they have long practiced, they also have their own tattoo techniques that they can lay claim to. The different tattoo techniques that were used to create the authentic tattoos and were born in different cultures are exciting to explore, not just to find out more about the surprising tools and methods that were once well-used, but to gain a fuller appreciation of tattooing as an art form and the journey that it has taken to become the practice that artists master today. In Part 1 of this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the tattoo techniques used in both Ancient Egypt and Polynesia.  


Egyptian Tattoo Techniques  

The history of tattooing has been traced back for centuries. Without even specifically searching for evidence of tattoos, historians and archaeologists have come across signs of tattooing on more than one occasion, revealing its use in ancient cultures. Whilst these awe-inspiring discoveries have led to plenty of discussion and research over the original purpose of tattoos, they have also uncovered some pretty interesting questions about ancient tattoo techniques. As the home of some of the oldest evidence of tattoo techniques ever found, Egypt is a fascinating place to start when looking into these questions. It’s thought that tattooing in Egypt was commonplace as far as 4000 years ago, so it’s to be expected that going back this far will point to some drastically different tattoo techniques to the ones currently used by artists.  


Towards the end of the 1800s, British archaeologist and Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, was one of the first to find actual evidence of ancient tattoo techniques. Although it was tricky for Petrie to say for certain whether or not the objects that he found were used for tattooing, it’s easy to see why this is the conclusion that many researchers have come to. The first object was a wooden instrument with an incredibly sharp point that dated all the way back to 3000 BC, the second was a set of bronze tools from roughly 1450 BC that looked a little like flat needles. With their pointed tips and functional handles, thinking of how these tools would have been used in past tattoo techniques doesn’t seem like a stretch of the imagination. These instruments might appear rough and ready in today’s standards, but it’s worth remembering that they would have been efficient and useful at the time that these tattoo techniques were in use.  


Tattoo Techniques In Polynesia

Polynesia has played an important part in the history of tattoo techniques. Tattooing began to take place here over 2000 years ago, and it was the Indigenous peoples of Southeast Asian countries who were critical in dispersing the art across the globe. With the Samoan word ‘tatau’ first coming back to Europe with explorer James Cook on one of his voyages, there is a lot to learn from the tattoo techniques used in these countries.

The tattoo techniques and tools that were used in Samoa were passed through the generations of families from father to son. The main tool at the heart of their traditional technique was a sort of comb or rake called an ‘au’. Here, needles were made from natural materials like turtle shell or shark teeth that were then sharpened and fitted to a handle. Once the au had been dipped into the ink, it would be tapped into the skin with another wooden stick. This tapping method could well have been quite harsh on the skin, so much so that an assistant would need to lend a hand to hold the skin taught and make sure that the vibrations don’t ruin the design of the tattoo.  


New Zealand is another Polynesian setting that holds a rich tattooing history. Maori tattoos are almost instantly recognisable and were originally created through a method known as ‘Ta Moko’. Just as in Samoan tattoo techniques, there is one key tool used in Ta Moko. An ‘uhi’ acted as a sort of chisel in this method; although these tools were eventually made of metals like iron, they originally would have been made from bone, stone or teeth that had been sharpened into shape. First, the chisel was used to cut open the skin into the shape of the desired pattern, once this stage was complete, the uhi would be dipped into the ink and tapped into the open skin with a mallet. As tattoo techniques go, this method was quite invasive and often left a raised texture on the skin where the Ta Moko had healed. Like many other tattoo techniques, Ta Moko has moved on from its original method, however, these tattoos remain just as much a source of pride for Maori people as they once did as a symbol of their rich and unique culture.  


Looking into the tattoo techniques that have originated from these cultures opens up a whole new world of knowledge for modern-day artists to explore and get to grips with. After all, these tattoo techniques paved the way for their own current work in their studios. We stock a large range of tattoo supplies for artists to enjoy using in their up-to-date tattoo techniques, visit us at our Nottingham store or place your order online.